On Rough Seas

On Rough Seas

by Nancy L. Hull

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At 14, Alec knows what he wants to be: a seaman. Instead of working at his family’s inn, he prefers roaming through the busy streets and docks of Dover. When the captain of the Britannia, one of the fishing vessels in the Channel, asks him to be a galley boy, he seizes the opportunity in spite of his father’s objections. On his first day at sea, he…  See more details below


At 14, Alec knows what he wants to be: a seaman. Instead of working at his family’s inn, he prefers roaming through the busy streets and docks of Dover. When the captain of the Britannia, one of the fishing vessels in the Channel, asks him to be a galley boy, he seizes the opportunity in spite of his father’s objections. On his first day at sea, he weathers a severe storm similar to the one that took the life of his cousin and best friend, Georgie, months earlier. Alec still feels guilty for having not been able to save Georgie. England is at war with Germany, and soon Alec is doing more than swabbing the deck and handling the ropes of the fishing vessel. He wonders why shadowy figures are disappearing into the tunnels under the old stone castle and who the special soldiers being billeted at the inn are. Then comes terrible news: hundreds of thousands of British forces are trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. All ships in the Channel, large and small, are ordered to undertake a massive evacuation. Alec’s transformation from galley boy to courageous seaman is a riveting journey in this dramatic debut novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set in 1940 Dover, this first novel plays for high stakes. It begins with the drowning of the 14-year-old protagonist's younger cousin, a tragedy that exacerbates the boy's first conflict: Alec longs to be a seaman while his father wants him to help run the family inn. Hull effectively builds Alec's self-reliance as he juggles his home duties with work as a galley boy aboard the local skiff Britannia. As the war thickens, he befriends soldiers billeted at the inn and unravels a mystery surrounding their mission. The cast, rather tidily, includes an acerbic first mate and a German Jewish orphan girl, both too broadly rendered. The plotting builds to Dunkirk (Alec stows away in order to participate in the evacuation), where Alec's offshore heroics also seem overly neat. However, readers unfamiliar with the story of Dunkirk will be impressed, and Hull's research is solid. Ages 10—14. (Apr.)

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Children's Literature - Ginny Sautner
Alec Curtis has always felt an affinity for the sea, even after a terrible tragedy steals away his younger cousin on the rough waters of the English Channel. Despite his father's continuous protests, Alec knows his destiny it is to be a seaman, so when the opportunity to become a galley boy presents itself and gives Alec an excuse to escape the grasp of his overbearing father, he takes it. Filled with a sense of adventure and courage, Alec is constantly trying to unravel the mysteries that surround him. Talk of war with the Germans becomes ever-threatening, and Alec is determined to discover the secrets of Dover's castle, the reason for the soldiers at the inn, and the explanation behind the shy German girl in their midst. Against his father's wishes, Alec feels a sense of responsibility to the stranded soldiers on the other side of Dover and is unwavering in his desire to help them. Alec learns invaluable lessons, which young readers can now only understand through books. This historical fiction novel would serve as a great enhancement to any educator's unit about the World War II era, helping to put in perspective how the glamour and outward excitement of war is often false. Reviewer: Ginny Sautner
School Library Journal

Gr 5-7- Fourteen-year-old Alec Curtis is no screwup, but after playing a part in the accidental drowning of his cousin, his father thinks he can't do anything right. So when the chance comes to work as a galley boy on the fishing boat Britannia 's day trips, Alec doesn't hesitate to get away. It's 1939 in Dover, England, and the country is on the brink of war. When Alec is not on the seas, he's noticing strange things in his hometown. Soldiers with secret missions. A German girl with a tragic past. And the government is doing something in a castle that's off-limits to civilians. With pluck and determination, Alec gets to the bottom of these mysteries, ultimately aiding in the rescue of 300,000 British soldiers stranded on the shores of Dunkirk. Hull's style is pleasantly reminiscent of children's historical fiction novels of the past. Unfortunately, statements and descriptions are often repeated, unnecessarily padding out the story. A good book but one that could certainly have been pared down.-Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Hitler has already invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland, and France and England may be next. England braces for war, with barbed wire now fringing the sandy coasts and rationing, curfews and evacuation at the top of everyone's mind. When soldiers begin gathering at his father's inn in Dover, 14-year-old Alec Curtis is fascinated by their secrecy and by the "feel of war." After the death of his cousin Georgie, a tragedy Alec feels responsible for, Alec wants to prove himself in the war effort "to make it right for Georgie," and he gets his chance in the dramatic rescue at Dunkirk. Hull's debut novel effectively conveys the increasing tension as war becomes imminent. Believable characters, a tight plot and a wealth of historical detail neatly woven into the text make this a must for the many young readers interested in World War II. (Fiction. 10+)
From the Publisher

"The core story of Alec's ill-fated fishing trip and its life-altering repercussions is convincing and well told." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Hull offers a sensitive portrayal of Alec's seesawing emotions and gradual recognition of what matters to him. A well-researched historical novel." Booklist, ALA

"A wealth of historical detail neatly woven into the text make this a must for the many young readers interested in World War II." Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Age Range:
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Read an Excerpt

Crusty Badger

Alec heard the shouting as soon as he stepped onto the dock. It was late afternoon, and most of the other ships were already in port, tied up for the night. The argument was coming from near the Britannia. “We’ve no need for a boy on this ship!” the man bellowed. “’e’ll be in the way, makin’ more work for us. We can manage without ’im.” Alec slowed his pace and then hid behind the Tamzine, which was moored next to the Britannia. Captain Cairns was speaking.
“He’ll do the jobs we can’t be wasting our time doing, Badger,” the captain said. “Scrubbing the decks and reeling in the lines once we’ve loaded the hold.
He’ll free us to collect our pay and settle accounts. Besides, with Alec along at the end of the day, you can start early on your pints at Snargate Street. You’ll see—the boy’ll work hard.
He’s been raised to carry his load. Give him a chance . . . and treat him better than you do the barmaid at the White Horse.” “I’ll be treatin’ ’im the way I care to treat ’im, and if ’e gets in my way, I’ll give him a thrashin’ ’e won’t soon forget. I’ve got no time to be trainin’ babies ’ow to be seamen.” Alec didn’t wait for more. He stepped out from his hiding place and cleared his throat.
Captain Cairns turned toward him and smiled. Alec could tell by the wet deck and loose ropes that they’d just come into port. “Alec. We were just speaking of you, lad. I was telling Badger that you’re coming on as galley boy. . . .
Badger,” the captain said, “this is Alec Curtis. Alec, Badger’s my first mate.
Been with me for some time.” “Aye, good to meet you, Mr. Badger,” Alec said.
“Not Mr. Badger. Just Badger,” the first mate answered.
“We’ve had a long day, Alec,” Captain Cairns went on. “A bit tired we are. Let me show you the ship, and we’ll make plans for tomorrow morning.” Alec could see that the Britannia was an old ship, sitting low in the water, a meter high from deck to gunwale. Its beam was about three meters across, allowing room for working with cargo.
Near the stern were two doors that swung open to the hold below. In the middle was the wheelhouse, where the captain guided the boat through the Channel waters. Atop that, the boom extended upward at an angle, ready to be used for loading and unloading cargo and catch.
Just in front of the wheelhouse, doors lifted up to reveal a few steps that led to the small galley. “You’ll help with casting off the ship, and then I’ll need you to clean up any mess on deck,” the captain said. “Once that’s done, we’ll want some strong tea brewed, and then, if Badger has nothing else, you’re to wait atop the locker on deck until we make port. Badger tends to the mechanics—making sure the engine is running and the petrol is stocked.” The Brittania wasn’t a big ship—about twelve meters bow to stern—but what with keeping the ship running, and loading and hauling cargo, and cleaning up after, Alec could see that they were all needed. He would prove that to Badger.
“That’s it, lad,” Captain Cairns said, climbing up from the galley and moving past Alec toward the stern. “We’re a small business, hauling light cargo—wire, scrap metal, steel posts—up and down between the smaller coastal towns. And when the weather’s good and we’ve no loads to deliver, we’ll cast some nets for fish to sell at the pubs.
It can be a hard life. But it puts money in your pocket. And it usually gets us out to sea six days a week.” “Aye, and it’ll get you ’urt if you don’t stay awake and keep out of my way,” Badger snarled. “So be sharp. This is no life for a reckless bloke.” “Aye, Mr. B—,” Alec began. “Aye, Badger.
I’ll do my job. You can believe that.” “Alec,” Captain Cairns said. “Depending on how thick the fog is, we leave at seven hundred. Don’t be late, lad.” “Aye, Captain.” Alec answered. “I’ll be up early to do my work for Aga. I’ll be on time.” “Until tomorrow, then, sonny. Get your rest. You’ll need it.” Alec nodded and stepped over the gunwale and onto the dock. He heard Badger grumbling to the captain, but he didn’t care. Captain Cairns owned the Britannia. Badger worked for the captain. And now, so did Alec. Badger would not change that.

The next morning, Alec was up as planned. He had the breakfast table set and hot water boiling on the cooker by the time Aga came into the kitchen.
“I’m off, Aga. Wish me well on my first day.” “Aye, Alec. I wish you good sense and good weather. I just stepped out to bring in the milk, and the clouds are thrashing about. Take your slicker.” “Already have it here.” Alec pointed to his pack. “I’ll be back before supper.” The streets were wet and dank as Alec maade his way to the docks. Though he couldn’t see the dairyman because of the fog, he could hear the clopping of horses’ hooves on the brick streets and the clinking of bottles as the man placed the milk on the back steps and waited to collect the rationn stamps from his customers.
Mrs. Tanner was sweeping the sidewalk in front of her tailoring shop. Alec didn’t see her until he was nearly past.
He tried to ignore her.
“Young man,” she said. “Where are you off to this early in the morning?” “To the docks. I’ve a job on the Britannia. A galley job.” “Well, you’ve got a dreary morning to be shoving off. Rain will come before you’re back.” “A little rain won’t scuttle us,” Alec said. “Who’s your skipper?” Mrs. Tanner asked. “What’s the bloke’s name on your ship?” “Cairns,” Alec answered. “Captain Cairns.” “Cairns, is it? Aye, I know him. Older chap. Too quiet. Always wonder what he’s thinking.” Alec didn’t answer her. He was not going to be late—especially because of Mrs. Tanner. So he sprinted off before she could question him further.
Old Mrs. Tanner, Alec thought. She’s nothing but a gossip. She might run a good tailoring business—at least that’s what Mum says—but I’m not wasting words with her.
On the corner, he looked up to see that the fog had begun to clear. He could barely make out the gargoyle that perched menacingly atop the old shoe factory. Wouldn’t Dover be surprised if that gargoyle suddenly swooped down and snatched Mrs. Tanner right off her front stoop? He smiled as he imagined Mrs.
Tanner on the gargoyle’s back, rising up to the heavens, spewing gossip to the folks below. His thoughts soon shifted to Captain Cairns and the boat. One day I’ll be a full shipmate, he imagined. Then I’ll buy my own boat, something small for odd jobs along the Channel. Like Captain Cairns, I’ll run my own business until I’m old and be free of anyone telling me what’s good and what’s not.
Past the Tea Shoppe and then the Snargate pubs, Alec continued down the hill to the docks. The town rested peacefully by the Channel. Most Dover merchants had not yet opened their businesses. Only the greengrocer was out, filling the bins in front of his store with asparagus, potatoes, and the few oranges he could get. Across the street, the haberdashery stood silent, its windows displaying the latest hats and trousers. A charwoman, her apron starched white against her black dress, greeted Alec on her way to work. And just as Alec passed the newsstand, its agent stepped outside and bellowed.
“Alec. Alec Curtis. Where have ye been, boy? I haven’t seen ye at me stand for weeks now. What—are ye too old for them Beano comics? I’ve the latest issue right here.” “No, no thank you, Mr. Kelly. I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’ve got a job now. I’m a galley boy on the Britannia. I’ve not much time for reading anymore, with helping Aga and then tending ship. We’re off to Folkstone today.” “The Britannia, ye say? Can’t picture it. Who’s her captain?” Mr. Kelly continued.
Worried that he’d be late, Alec edged away from the stand. He knew Mr. Kelly would want to find out more than he had time to tell.
“Captain Cairns,” Alec answered. “It’s an old oyster smack—with a Kelvin forty-four engine. Runs on petrol. Used for fishing and carrying light cargo.” Alec paused. “I’ll stop another morning, Mr. Kelly. Maybe I’ll grab that Beano comic then.” “Aye, Alec. You do that—if I’ve any left. Watch for the weather today. The clouds are hanging low.” Alec scurried on past the postal office and Lawton’s Jewelry and emerged from between the buildings. He crossed High Street and sprinted along the dock where the Britannia waited. Captain Cairns was winding up the ropes as Alec came down the planks. “Hey, sonny. Ready for some rough waters today?” “Doesn’t look too awful, Captain. But Aga was worried, too. Think we’ll get in our trip to Folkestone before it hits?” “Aye, sonny. I wouldn’t risk it if I thought the old ship couldn’t handle the water. We’ve started out in worse. Now help me with these cargo doors so we can be on our way.” “Where’s Badger? Isn’t he coming?” Alec closed the doors and slipped the board through the handles.
“Aye, I’m wondering the same. He’s a smart first mate. He’s also a crusty one. Likes the pubs most nights. I’ve waited for him before. He’ll be here, but my patience is getting short.” “What’s our cargo to Folkestone, Captain?” “Fencing. The council there wants to yard up the area between the beach and the town. We’ve got posts and fencing for them. Loaded it last night with Badger.” “A neat job,” Alec said. “Should be a quick jaunt, right, Captain?” “If the weather cooperates, we’ll be back in a shake. But keep your eyes on those clouds rolling from the south; storms usually kick up pretty quickly with clouds like those.” “Aye, I know.” Alec nodded. He remembered the Wayfarer and Georgie. It had been such a morning. He hadn’t seen it coming. How could he have missed the signs? How could he have thought they’d be okay in a little fishing skiff? If he was to be a seaman, he must learn to see the signs. Alec scanned the dock for Badger. He couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or happy with the man’s absence.
But before he had a chance to make up his mind, Badger staggered down the dock planks, looking hung-over and ornery. He squinted through the fog with his bloodshot eyes and tangled with the mooring rope of the Tamzine before stopping at the Britannia.
“Thought we were going to have to shove off without you, Badger.” Captain Cairns looked him over and wrinkled his nose at the smell. “Have you been stumbling around all night?” “’Ad meself a row last evenin’, Cap’n, and I feel it this mornin’. I’m a bit sore. Though I fared better than the other bloke, I can tell you that. Where we off to?” “To Folkestone. Remember? That fencing we loaded? Have to get it to the docks there. Those blokes think it’ll keep the Jerries off their beaches. . . . Soon we’ll see the fencing up here as well.” “Now, Cap’n, we’ve nothin’ to worry about, do you think?” Badger watched as Alec untied the ropes from the dock stakes and stepped onboard. “We’ve got the Royal Navy and the BEF. Aye, those boys in the British Expeditionary Force, they’ll be after the Jerries soon as they get the word. And a bloke at the White Horse? He says there’s special troops comin’ into Dover. Those Jerries—they cannit take British soil.” “You weren’t old enough for the Great War, Badger, but I can tell you, those Germans are still upset at their disgrace. They’ve been building up arms, just waiting for another chance to storm Europe. And Hitler—the newsreels are filled with him and his propaganda. Says his air power—his Luftwaffe—is something to be feared. No, I’m not wishing for a war, but I’m not ignoring it, either.” “Well, they’ve been scrappin’ over in Europe for months now, and nothin’s ’appened ’ere but a few air-raid sirens and the blackouts. I’m not worried—though I’m glad for the work.
Carryin’ fencin’ gives us business.” Alec felt the Britannia shudder as the captain started the engine and steered the ship out of port. “Take a seat on the locker, Alec, until we get into open water.” The captain turned the wheel and pushed forward on the throttle. The rumbling of the engine gave Alec chills. Just the way Margaret had told him. He was there—on a ship. Leaning back on the locker, he closed his eyes and felt the wind brush his face as the boat cut through the choppy water. Surrounded by sea and whitecaps, Alec felt content. What Aga feared about the Channel, Alec loved—the uncertainty, the wide expanse of water, the mysteries beneath.
Sometimes, when he had been sailing with Georgie, Alec would tell stories about sea creatures and giant fish. Though they never lost sight of land, Georgie would stare at the shore, planning his escape yet quivering with excitement as Alec spun his tales. It took some time for Alec to convince George they were only seamen’s tales with no truth to them.
Now, relaxing on the locker box, Alec smiled, remembering how Georgie would slip his hand into Alec’s—just to feel safe. Alec felt a twinge of guilt about not missing Georgie so much lately. But he’d been too busy. Could it be that easy to forget a friend? “You haven’t forgotten him, Alec,” Margaret’s voice said in his head. “Why, you’re thinking about him right now.
You’re just remembering the good times.
You’ve started to move past the bad.
He’ll always be your friend.” The ship pitched left and jolted Alec out of his daydream. Rolling waves beat against the hull as the wind picked up speed. The gray-blue sky and water came together, causing Alec to think the ship was floating free. His hands gripped the side of the locker.
It took most of the morning for the Britannia to cut through the Channel to Folkestone. By the time they reached port, they were weary from fighting the waves. Badger released the boom and swung it around to the hold while Alec opened the cargo doors. Alec stepped back as the captain snapped the hook onto the first roll of wire. Then the captain and Badger swung the boom around and lowered the wire to the dock. A crew of dockhands unclipped the load and carried each bundle up to shore. The whole business took only an hour. “It’s looking ugly out there, mate,” one of the dockhands called. “Can you get home, or should you tie up and wait it out?” Alec felt his chest tighten. He didn’t want to risk a disaster—but he also didn’t want to be home late on his first day. Father would never let it go.
“Aye, it is a bit nasty. But I’ve sailed enough to know we’ll be okay if we don’t dawdle,” the captain answered.
After closing the hold and securing the boom, they were soon ready to leave Folkestone and turn north to Dover.
Though the wind had picked up even more while they were docked, Alec was hopeful they could make it to Dover well before supper. Settling into his spot behind the wheel, Captain Cairns beckoned Alec.
“Alec lad, go below and secure anything that could come loose and bounce around the galley. We’ve got some foul weather coming—rain for sure.” “And tea?” Alec inquired. “Will you be wanting tea?” “Too much pitching for a flame today, lad. No, just snug things up and then stay below until we’re done with this wind. Those clouds over there tell me that the Britannia will soon be tossed around a bit. I don’t want to take any chances of you flipping overboard.” “Yes, sir,” Alec answered, disappointed.
He descended the short stairway to the galley. He tried to steady himself when the ship heaved fiercely to one side.
Bracing his foot against the wall, he checked the galley cupboards. Then he felt the ship lurch to the other side, tilt back to the center, and stop with a jolt that sent him banging into the cupboard behind him. Racing up the steps, Alec made it to the wheelhouse just as Badger ran in. He pushed Alec aside. “What’s the bloody matter?” “I shut her down. She won’t turn,” the captain answered.
“What is it?” Badger shouted. “The rudder, I think. Something’s tying it up.” “Someone’s got to go over.” Badger shot a look at Alec. “The boy’s not strong enough. It’ll have to be me.” Alec felt the sting of his words.
The captain continued. “Alec, get a rope from the hold. . . . Badger, we’ll tie one end around you and the other to the post near the wheelhouse—pull you back up after you’ve gotten a look.” Badger nodded.
Within minutes, Alec and Captain Cairns had knotted the rope around the post.
They watched as Badger tightened the other end at his waist. Above the wind, Badger barked orders to Alec. “Once I’ve checked it over, I’ll call back up. It’s no time for larkin’ about, so pay attention.” By now, the waves were tossing the ship like a toy. Alec planted one foot against the side and clung to the railing as Badger checked his rope.
“You’ve got to hurry, Badger,” the captain hollered. “Water’s too rough and cold. If you can’t see it right away, leave it. We’ll ride out the storm. . .
. Did you hear me, Badger? No need for foolishness.” “Aye, I’ll take no chances.” Badger shouted again as he held to the side of the ship. Captain Cairns went back into the wheelhouse, and Alec stood by Badger, who put one leg over the edge and dropped into the sea. Alec watched him disappear beneath the foam and then bob up again, moving toward the stern. Alec grabbed the railing and closed his eyes. The water was rolling just as it had been with Georgie. He saw again Georgie smothered by the waves and felt as helpless as he had then. He thought it was useless to try to make repairs. Badger would drown.
But then his eyes sprang open. Badger had said to pay attention. Alec would prove he could do it.
So he moved to the stern, leaned over the rail, and waited for Badger’s signal. As the waves beat against the ship, Alec wondered if he and the captain would be able to hoist Badger in when he was done. But then Alec saw the first mate with his hand in the air, signaling for Alec to lean toward him.
Alec felt his heart pounding. The water was close, the waves so loud. He thought he would fall in.
“A wrench! Get me a wrench!” Badger called. “Some scrap metal—it’s caught up in the rudder. Got to work it free.” Alec turned and skidded toward the locker. He put his knee against the front and flung open the lid. His hands dug deep into the box, and he shoved other tools aside until he found the wrench Badger needed. Grabbing a short piece of rope, he tied it to the wrench and then staggered back across the rolling deck to lower the tool to Badger.
The wrench flopped against the hull, bouncing off the side and swinging out into the sea before it settled into Badger’s hand. He loosened the rope and disappeared again beneath the water.
Alec stared at the spot where Badger had been. Nothing. He looked again, thinking Badger needed to come up. He turned toward the captain and threw up his hands, wondering what he should do. Then he turned back to the sea. There was Badger, tossing his head free of water and holding the wrench above him.
“Tell the captain it’s free. The rudder’s free. Have him turn the wheel.” “He’s got it, Captain!” Alec shouted back. “Try to turn the wheel.” The captain started the engine and spun the wheel just enough to feel the boat turn slightly starboard. “Alec. It’s working! Tell Badger to get to the side. We’ll heft him in.” Alec leaned over and called into the wind, “Badger, Captain says the rudder’s working. Come back. We’ll help you in.” Badger nodded and flung the wrench up and over the gunwale and onto the deck.
Working hand over hand, he dragged himself through the water and back to starboard. He coughed as waves washed over him.
Badger wasn’t far below them; still, Alec wondered if they could hoist the big man up. Then the captain joined him, and together they began pulling on the rope. The Channel fought them, but Alec and the captain kept on. Alec felt the burn through his gloves as he and Captain Cairns reached farther down the rope. At first, their pulling seemed to make no difference. Then Badger’s body rose out of the water. Grunting now in rhythm, they leaned away, heaving on the rope. With each tug, the captain stepped farther back from the edge. Alec stayed near the side, heaving and pulling, until Badger’s head appeared over the gunwale. “We’re almost there, Badger,” the captain called. Then, without warning, the ship rolled as a towering wave pounded the hull, knocking both Alec and the captain to the deck. Alec clung to the rope. He shook off the blow and raised himself to his knees.
Just behind him, the captain was getting up. Alec felt the cold spray seeping into his trousers. Then, using the rope as support, he got to his feet and worked his way back to the side. Looking over the edge, he saw Badger dangling from the rope, his legs dragging in the surf. He looked dead. “Badger! Badger!” Alec called. “Are you okay?” Badger didn’t answer. His body bounced against the ship with each rolling wave.
Then Alec heard a cry. The first mate stirred.
“Badger!” Alec screamed again. “Badger!” “Me leg!” Badger howled. “Me leg! I’ve snapped me leg!” Alec leaned farther over the edge and gasped. Badger’s trousers were slit; a bloody leg stuck out through the hole. “Captain!” Alec screamed as he turned to Cairns. “Badger’s hurt!” Without waiting, Alec grabbed the rope again and pulled hard, straining to lift Badger. The captain was soon at his side, tugging along with him.
“Me leg!” Badger cried again. “Get me in!” The rope stretched taut against the railing. Above the wind, Alec heard Badger moan with every jerk of the line.
Still they pulled. He was dead weight for them to lift. The going was slow, but finally Badger’s hand slapped atop the gunwale. Alec and the captain reached over the side. “Try to hold his leg, Alec. Keep it steady. I’ll lift him under the arms and pull him in.” As the captain turned sideways and supported Badger from behind, Alec cradled the mangled leg in his arms and lifted it the last few inches over the side before they set the first mate on the deck. “It’s a bad break, Badger,” the captain said. “We’ll get you back to Dover.” He motioned for Alec to come nearer. “He’ll not be thinking well with that wound, Alec. Try to keep him calm.” “I can keep him still, Captain. Just help me get him over by the wheelhouse, where we can rest his back against the wall. Then I’ll get some blankets from the galley.” They went to work and made Badger as comfortable as possible before the captain resumed his post in the wheelhouse and restarted the ship’s engine. The motor sputtered a bit and then chugged to life, moving the boat through the waves. The captain turned the ship north and moved toward Dover.
Waves beat against the ship’s stern. Badger felt every roll. “Ahhh! It’s broken, isn’t it? You saw it. It’s snapped, isn’t it?” Alec wrapped the blankets tightly around Badger’s body, and then he placed his hand firmly on the first mate’s chest to keep him quiet. Unable to see where they were, Alec knelt at Badger’s side. The time passed slowly. Badger rolled his head back and forth against the wheelhouse wall. One moment, he was awake and asking Alec if they had far to go, and the next, he was deathly still, passed out from pain. Alec prayed for the storm to subside.
At last he heard the captain yell, and he spotted the Dover cliffs. Within a few minutes, they were sliding into the docks as the captain called out to a man onshore.
“Ring for help! My first mate’s been hurt.” The dockhand turned and ran toward shore, calling to those nearby to give the captain a hand. A dozen men lined the dock and grabbed for the ropes the captain had thrown to them. Alec stayed with Badger.
“You’re going to be all right, mate,” Alec whispered. “Aye, it’s a nasty wound, but you’ll find yourself at the pubs before you know it. We’ll see you here on the Britannia again.” An ambulance lorry was moving down High Street. When the men boarded the ship to lift Badger off, Alec shouted out orders. “He’s got a bad break there.
Watch his leg. Hold his head up, too.
Give him some room!” Badger winced as they picked him up to place him in the back of the waiting lorry. After it had left, Alec stepped up next to Captain Cairns.
“You did well today, lad.” Cairns patted Alec’s shoulder. “You kept your head and proved your worth.” “What about Badger?” Alec said. “He’ll be okay?” “His sailing days are over for some time. I can tell you that. I’ve never seen such a nasty break.” “What’ll you do, Captain? You can’t move about the Channel without another hand.” “No, you’re right, lad. We need three for loading and unloading. We may be docked for a bit. But I don’t mind taking some time off. This petrol rationing has started to pinch us. We soon won’t be charging off to any port we want, as we have in the past. So far, we’ve been able to get extra rations, since we’re hauling the barbed wire and other wartime freight. But even those loads are slowing down. No, a holiday won’t hurt us.” “I’m ready to do whatever you need,” Alec said. “I’ll be checking in the morning to see how Badger’s feeling. The three of us will be going again, you’ll see.” “I hope you’re right, lad. Now, you head on home as soon as you’ve cleaned up the deck. And be careful what you tell your dad and mum. Don’t make the story too good or they may just decide your sailing days are over as well.” “No worry there, Captain. I’ll save this story for Aga.” Alec rolled up the rope and swabbed the water from the Britannia. When he was leaving, a crowd was still waiting to hear the captain’s tale of bent rudders and broken bones. Alec didn’t need to stay and listen; he’d lived it. On his way to the Shaftbury, he thought about the minutes after Badger had gotten hurt. Alec hadn’t done anything foolish. Even the captain had said he’d proved himself. Maybe with Badger injured, the captain would make Alec first mate. Then wouldn’t his father be surprised—that he had done his job well, that he had earned his place.

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